Notes of Cinnamon, Black Pepper, and Despair: Aging Fiction

Brewing vessels containing wash, for Single Ma...

I’ve got two novels and a short story aging in here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do booze and fiction have in common?

Both are on my desk, even though it’s nine in the morning.


Sorry. Anyway, the non-disturbing answer is that for both, aging is often needed. To improve the flavour and round off some of the harsher tones. Some pieces are like single malt scotch, and need a long rest. Others are like bathtub ‘whiskey’, where a little caramel colour and formaldehyde might do just as well.* After you finish that first draft, you need to take a little time and step away. Do something else. Write something else.

How long? Well, that varies. Everyone’s got a prescription: a day, a week, six months, the amount of time it takes you to write the next thing or fly to Jupiter in a rocket ship powered by children’s tears. And then of course there’s how much time you can afford to take away from it. Those deadlines do not fuck about, and perhaps one of those is creeping up on your piece like a coked-up werewolf. You might not have time to spend telling neighbourhood children the truth about Santa** so you can fuel your rocket ship.

But let’s assume best case scenario: there’s no deadline, or nothing immediate. How long?

Here’s my two cents: you should wait until you can look at that piece of writing as if someone else wrote it. And someone you don’t know. Or even like very much. No patting yourself on the back over the good parts, no cringing over the terrible parts***. Wait until you can look upon that story or novel or whatever the way a sculptor looks at a piece of stone. The look that says, you are nothing. Yet. But maybe I can make something of you.

That’s when you’ll notice the plot holes, the characters that don’t quite jive, the missed steps and way-too-fucking-coincidental coincidences. It’s also when you’ll notice the themes, the ideas that maybe you couldn’t quite articulate properly in that first white hot rush of creating.

So, wait until you can make those notes dispassionately. Or at least not be reduced to tears/spitting rage by the piece. Because it’s gotta age, baby. Just let it sit.

And, in the meantime, write the next thing.
*They really used to do this during Prohibition. An adventure in every bottle!
**Mostly that he’s kind of a jerk.
***Because there are terrible parts, sunshine. There are.

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